Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari

Hot wheels.

There are many reasons to choose from when deciding whether or not to go see Ford v Ferrari. Casting is the obvious reason. Despite Matt Damon and Christian Bale occasionally putting their feet in their respective mouths and a lot of people treating Damon like Hollywood’s version of Nickelback (whom are hated for no logical reason and, yes, I still listen to), both are fantastic actors who are always worth the price of admission.

Another obvious reason is to watch cars go fast. While some might argue the movie should feature more racing, it features plenty. I poke a lot of fun at elements of movies that are strictly there to provide exposition, but exposition is necessary and there are good and bad ways to do it. The non-racing scenes of Ford v Ferrari exposit in good ways, keeping you engaged in the film rather than making you check your watch every two minutes. More importantly, those racing scenes are worth it. They are filled with tension, great cinematography, and several cars going really, really fast.

In full disclosure, I am not a racing fan. I like fast cars and I especially like Formula One and Grand Prix cars because those cars trigger my engineering brain in both their aesthetics and mechanical design. But I do not watch races. Like golf and cycling, they are long and mind-numbingly redundant. Anyone who deliberately sits down and watches one of these things from beginning to end is either single or about to be. And don’t even get me started on the worst ahem..sport..ahem ever foisted on humanity known as NASCAR.

(Side note: I am huge baseball fan and you are wrong.)

Like catnip for gear heads. All of them.

Speaking of which, I have no idea if NASCAR fans are interested in a racing movie that features people speaking in intelligible accents not named Jeff Gordon. I am sure a movie featuring the famed Carol Shelby (portrayed by Damon) will draw them in, but those people probably won’t be too happy when the film insults stock car racing, basically calling it infantile and amateur (“all they do is turn left”). You bet I guffawed and the film does it multiple times.

If Damon and Bale do nothing for you and cars are just four wheels and an engine to you, how do you feel about story and characters? This film is a historical fiction doubling as a biopic of Shelby and racer Ken Miles (Bale). The story is about Shelby and Miles, with financial backing from Ford Motor Company, developing a supercar to race in the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans race, which I had never heard of prior to this film. The film takes place over 1965 and 1966, with the climax being the 1966 Le Mans.

(Side note: If you are a big racing fan and know the history of Le Mans, then you know that Ford began racing the Le Mans in 1964, not 1965. There are other small changes to the actual story too, so if you are the kind of person that cannot stand when movies doesn’t “stay true to the book,” then you should probably get over yourself.)

So pretty.

Like I said, Damon and Bale never disappoint, and this film is no different. Damon delivers a Shelby who is constantly being torn by loyalty to his friends, especially Miles, and loyalty to himself in the form of staying in control of the racing team. Bale delivers a cocksure Miles who seems to be on the edge of self-destruction, but is actually fully in control and aware of how his decision affect his family and friends. Both men are eminently likeable and sympathetic and you will have absolutely no trouble rooting for them. Especially when it comes to the Ford guys they have to deal with.

The whole reason Shelby is tabbed to lead and build a race team is because Ford CEO Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) is insulted by Ferrari owner Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) when a deal to purchase Ferrari is scuttled by Enzo. Ford II gives vice president Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) the green light for the racing team, tasking senior executive vice president Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) to be in charge. Ford II is a very dislikeable person, but in a conventional CEOs-are-narcissistic-dicks way. Iacocca is actually an advocate of Shelby and Miles, but his importance to the film is over once the team is established. Beebe is the guy you will hate by the end of this film, as he is consistently undermining Shelby and Miles, sometimes acting as if he trying to make them fail, even though they are his team. Lucas delivers a slimy, asshat of a character, every bit as loathsome as Shelby and Miles are sympathetic. Every time Beebe is talking, you hope somebody crushes his larynx with a wrench.

If we kill him do we get to keep the car?

If there is one negative thing about the film, it’s that the final couple of scenes after the climactic race are completely unnecessary. Without spoiling things for you (and definitely don’t Google the race if you don’t want spoilers), the film foreshadows something that may or not happen during the climax. The tension built on this is palpable and makes for a great experience for the audience as it plays out. Once the race is over, the tension releases and you, the audience, are perfectly satisfied. Then, these additional scenes happen and that satisfaction is undermined because everything in the movie had already received closure. Luckily, it is such a small part of the movie that you can just dismiss it as a figment of your imagination.

So, pick your reason. Good acting, good storytelling, a good villain, cool cars, not NASCAR – any or all are enough to justify spending money on this film. If anything, it will inspire you to go find out a little more about Ken Miles, Carroll Shelby, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It inspired me and now I know a lot more about that race and its history. Though, not enough to watch a real race.

Rating: Do not ask for any money back for any reason.

The Accountant

By: Kevin Jordan

Two is the only number that matters.

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On the Movie Fixers podcast, we have started a list of unforgivable sins, i.e. things that should never happen in movies.  One of those things is not double-tapping an enemy.  If you’ve seen a horror movie at any time in your life, you know what I’m talking about – the hero takes out the bad guy, but doesn’t hit/shoot/crush him again to ensure he is dead.  Inevitably, that bad guy “comes back from the dead” to wreak more havoc.  This does not happen in The Accountant.  Ben Affleck (playing the title character), double-taps, and sometimes even triple-taps every bad guy in his wake.  The best part is that my friend and I weren’t the only ones in the theater to cheer for this.  I heard at least two other people literally say “double-tap” and I’m I could feel them fist bump from several seats away.  It was glorious.

(SPOILERS coming, but they will be mild and few.  You can count them if you like.)

But that’s not the only reason I liked The Accountant.  It’s a pretty good action flick that makes the most boring profession on the planet (sorry, Dad) interesting.  Affleck plays Chris Wolff, an autistic accountant who specializes in finding money.  You read that right – autistic – and this isn’t solely to give Chris a quirk/superpower.  It’s used to great effect to develop his character, comes into play with regards to at least one reveal, and makes you realize they are paralleling Leon in Leon: The Professional.  Most of Chris’ clients are drug lords or weapons dealers or other uncouth characters, but he decides to take on a seemingly straight-laced job working for a robotics company helmed by Lamar Black (John Lithgow).  One of their employees, Dana (Anna Kendrick), discovered some missing money during her accounting and Lamar brings Chris in to find it.  After a night of going through the books, Chris has confirmed that money is indeed missing, but is shut down by the company before he can figure out where it went.  And if anyone is going to be bothered by an unfinished money puzzle, it’s an autistic accountant.

The boring part.

The boring part.

The movie kicks into action gear as the people who know about the missing money start getting gunned down by Brax (Jon Bernthal) and some other hired mercenaries.  I don’t need to tell you what happens for the rest of the movie because it should be fairly obvious.  Action, action, and more action, completed with the missing pieces to the money puzzle.  We also get treated with how an autistic accountant is also an insanely dangerous assassin and it’s very believable.  I know – I was surprised as well.

As much fun as all of the action and mystery was, the movie has a secondary plot involving US Treasury agents Ray King (J.K. Simmons) and Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) trying to identify and track down the accountant (it’s more fun to call him that than Chris, which is why they refer to him like that so often in the movie).  Unfortunately, this plotline is as pointless as the cops in Fargo and No Country for Old Men – the cops never really get close to catching their quarry.  To be fair, in all these cases they are used to further develop the main characters or villains, but they end up never really mattering to the plot.  They are basically us (the audience), but getting paid better.  Simmons owns every scene he is in (because of course he does, the man kills it in insurance commercials), so the scenes are enjoyable.  The problem is they bring the movie to a standstill and never advance the plot.  I think the tension of the movie could have been ratcheted up had the agents actually gotten into it once or twice with the accountant.  It could have been worse though, as Terminator: Genisys so aptly proved.

The not-boring part.

The not-boring part.

Before I go, I want to leave you with an observation and lack thereof.  There’s a clever little reveal at the very end of the flick that I didn’t pick up on.  My friend was surprised that I missed it and my reason was that because the conflict was over and the movie had been resolved, I had stopped thinking about the movie.  It’s not a great reason, but there it is.  However, he was still a little incredulous so I pointed out a clever little bit of filmmaking that he missed – early on when Chris first goes to the robotics company’s building, he is standing in front of a picture of a human hand touching fingers with a robotic hand.  Chris is placed in front of the robot hand and Lamar is placed in front of the human hand.  See?  Clever.  My point is that this movie definitely had some thought put into it and that’s why I think it was very good.  That and the double-taps.

Rating: Ask for one dollar back for the Treasury agent’s scenes.  They shouldn’t have been the most boring thing in a movie about an accountant.

Fury

By: Kevin Jordan

What war really looks like.

FURY - Final Poster Art

A couple of weeks ago, thousands of high school students in Jefferson County, Colorado (part of the Denver metro area) walked out of school in protest of a proposed change in the curriculum of the AP History course.  If you haven’t heard about this event, here is a direct quote from a Washington Post article published on October 5th covering the issue:

The school board plans to set up a new committee to review the curriculum with the goal of assuring that courses — in the words of board member Julie Williams — “present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage” and “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system.”  Williams also wrote that “materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder [or] social strife.”

Hopefully, you had the same reaction after reading that proposition that I did – rage and disbelief followed by wanting to mail those ignorant school board members copies of George Orwell’s 1984 followed by a flaming bag of dog poop.  I don’t bring this up to turn this into a political diatribe, but because the movie Fury is a perfect example of what those kids are protesting for.

As I get older and learn more things about history, I think back on my American history classes through elementary, middle, and high school and realize how truly whitewashed they really were.  My wife put it perfectly – they are a clinical version or history (my adjective was sanitized), basically just teaching us that things happened on certain dates involving certain people without including much context, if any at all.  Fury is a lesson that none of us were ever taught – unless you were lucky enough to have a teacher who actually cared about teaching history – that war is worse than you can possibly imagine, especially World War II.

If you are an American (like me), you came out of high school with the impression that World War II was a glorious struggle and victory by the Allied forces, led by the Americans who stopped the evil Nazis and Japanese, passed out candy bars and flags after liberating cities, and were on our absolute best behavior during the entire war.  It’s that last part that those school board members want emphasized even though it’s complete horseshit because they refuse to believe that war affects Americans the same as it affects everyone else.  These people will either never watch Fury or they will accuse it of being some kind of anti-American/communist propaganda even though it also depicts those positive aspects they are so desperate to convey.

Fury takes place in April 1945 and focuses on a single American tank crew fighting in Germany.  The crew is made up of Staff Sergeant Collier (Brad Pitt) – the crew commander, Technician Swan (Shia LeBeouf) – the main gunner, Corporal Garcia (Michael Pena) – the driver, PFC Travis (Jon Bernthal) – the loader and mechanic, and Private Ellison (Logan Lerman) – the assistant driver/machine gunner/new kid.  There is no lofty plot or mission or goal – for instance, like saving Private Ryan – it’s just the story of these five guys and what war does to them and everyone else.  Like the better war movies, Fury doesn’t shy away from showing the horrific things that happen during and after the fighting, but ups the ante by showing some of the things that American soldiers most likely did that we don’t like to think about or admit.  It shows what happens (mentally) to men whose whole purpose for three solid years was to kill the enemy while riding around in a giant steel cannon on treads.  To believe that our soldiers were somehow immune to the psychological toll that purpose would inflict is a fantasy deserving of the nuthouse.

While Brad Pitt is billed as the lead, the movie is just as much about Private Ellison.  As Ellison informs his new crewmates after failing to kill a German, he wasn’t trained for tank combat, he was trained to type 60 words a minute.  It was just Ellison’s bad luck that Sergeant Collier needed a replacement crewmember and Ellison was available.  As the movie goes on, Ellison initially represents that ideal of American innocence and only killing when absolutely required, but eventually becomes the killing machine his country requires him to be.  By contrast, the other crewmembers, sans Collier, are exactly the opposite – killing machines likened to animals (at one point, literally).  Collier is the balance between the two and even verbalizes the lessons of war, just in case you were still in denial about the realities of war.  Sometimes, he is the hard-nosed commander, pushing his men beyond their limits to fulfill their mission, forcing them to kill the enemy even if the enemy has surrendered.  Other times, he is the voice of reason, protecting German women from drunken soldiers looking to celebrate their victory (you don’t think millions of soldiers all contracted syphilis consensually, do you?).  He is also the guy that his men will follow anywhere and Ellison must learn why as the film marches on.

As a student of history, I highly recommend seeing this movie if you are interested in getting a peak at what really happens at the worst moments of human history.  The acting is great and the visuals are stunning (in ways both good and terrifying).  If you have a weak stomach or want to remain under the delusion that World War II (and other wars) were romantic and adventurous, you should probably steer clear of this film and keep to such films as Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  And, if you still don’t quite believe me on what this film’s message is, I’ll leave with you two quotes from Collier:

“Ideology is peaceful.  History is violent.”

“This war is going to be over soon, but a lot more people gotta die first.”

That’s the way history should be taught.

Rating: Don’t ask for any of your money back from the theater, but do ask for some of your tax dollars back for teaching you nothing.